They had chances in the fourth quarter and the first overtime period to clinch the game but failed to do so. In the second overtime period, with Game 4 on the line, the Singapore Slingers weren’t able to come up with the goods.
By the time the buzzer sounded, the players fell to the floor in disappointment. In back to back appearances in the ASEAN Basketball League finals, they had come away empty handed.
In yet another close game that featured 18 lead changes, the Slingers lost 80-82 and allowed debutant Hong Kong Eastern Long Lions to clinch the ABL title with a 3-1 win in the series.
What was more disappointing was the fact that the Slingers lost both their home games to concede the title. Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang blamed himself for the loss.
“I will definitely feel bad, but it is what it is,” Neo said. “Last year, we lost in Game 5. This year, we got ourselves here, two games which is our home court advantage, but we gave it up.
“I think I have myself to blame. I never handled properly on that situation, especially on the plays itself.”
Turnovers killed the team, said Neo. The Slingers had more turnovers than the Long Lions once more – the damning factor in all three defeats of the series. It was something that Neo had warned his players about several times.
Still, the Slingers did come out aggressive, like what Neo wanted. In the first quarter, they made four three-pointers alone – double the number of makes from Game 3 – and forced the Long Lions into foul trouble.
Guards Wong Wei Long and Josh Urbiztondo led the way for the Slingers, with the latter scoring eight points in the opening period, after Neo had called for them to step up.
That momentum fizzled in the second quarter before they roared back in the third quarter to hold a four-point lead. Yet, the Slingers got into foul trouble and allowed frustration to creep in after several contentious calls by the referees in the fourth quarter.
Down by five at one point, they fought back again. With the game tied 68-68 and less than 30 seconds to go, Xavier Alexander, who finished the game with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, failed to find a proper angle for a shot and the chance to close out the game went begging.
Both teams were inseparable in overtime. With the game at 74-74, Alexander missed another shot.
In the second overtime period, the visitors began on a roaring start, led by Marcus Elliott, who had a game-high 26 points. The Slingers never recovered, despite centre Justin Howard scoring some crucial points.
“They shot slightly better than us today, but we out-rebounded them. Towards the end, the hustle for the loose ball is a factor and they wanted the ball more,” Neo said.
“I think towards the end, we lost out stamina-wise. Our two imports played for 50 minutes. That really killed us as well.
Still, Neo believes that the players have what it takes to win a finals series.
“The ability is there, what they need to improve is how they going to handle the pressure especially on and off the court,” Neo said.
“We got a lot of shooters. Han Bin and the rest can take shots but it’s only that decision-making, how they going to make the decision, and get a really open shot rather than a forced shot.”
Long Lions coach Eduard Torres believes that winning Game 2 of the series was what changed the entire outlook of the series.
“I think the key was the second game. We had (Marcus) Elliott ejected, (Joshua) Boone injured. That was the key moment. We changed internally winning the second. If we lost 0-2, it was too much. But winning gave us the momentum,” Torres said.
But he admitted that the Slingers were worthy opponents too. “We needed everything… We gave everything we had,” said Torres.
When asked to sum the Slingers season, Neo admitted that he is “proud of the boys” despite falling at the final hurdle.
“We came all the way to the finals with all the injuries we’ve had… That’s an excuse on that, but it is what it is.
“Hopefully [for the next season], we can get ourselves stronger and see how it goes.”